The goaltending issue of last year has been addressed. Brian Elliott was allowed to walk and back up goalie Chad Johnson was traded to Arizona. Rather, Elliott was not offered a new deal after his current one expired, and fellow free agent Johnson had his rights traded – in addition to defensive prospect Brandon Hickey and a conditional 2018 3rd round draft pick – to Arizona for Mike Smith. The Coyotes also wind up absorbing 25% of Smith’s $6.6 million dollar annual cap hit (that’s approximately $1.7 million in savings). There was a lot of initial speculation that Johnson would eschew an offer from the Coyotes and re-sign as a free agent with hometown Calgary. An offer never materialized and Johnson signed with Buffalo.
Additionally, Flames GM Brad Treliving was able to nab Eddie Lack from the Carolina Hurricanes, not only for Keegan Kanzig and a 2019 draft pick, but he managed to save money – again – by having Carolina retain 50% of Lack’s salary. (Doesn’t it almost seem weird to have another team pay a portion of your player’s salary?)
Not only did the Flames (arguably) upgrade seriously in net, Treliving then went out and acquired Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic, along with a fourth round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. The cost? Calgary’s first and second round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft and a second round pick in either the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. While the team loses possibly valuable picks, they do not give up any current keeper players or prospects. Hamonic will replace the departed Dennis Wideman, and ask any fan of the Flames, he will not be missed.
While all this change and upgrading is good, fans need to be cautioned that although the team has signalled that it is now ready to contend for the Cup, there is one thing it absolutely has to accomplish this upcoming season to be taken as a legitimate threat.
Beat. The. Curse.
Calgary has upgraded significantly from last season and the moves Brad Treliving has made has sent the signal that the team is now ready to go all out for the post-season. No more sneaking in through the wild card door, the team is going to go gunning for seeding. Calgary can be expected to jockey for position with the likes of the Edmonton Oilers, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks.
Throughout the years, the Flames have traded even blows with the Sharks and, up until last season, they basically “owned” the Oilers for the better part of a decade and a half. While the Oilers took all the games last season, Flames fans didn’t lose sleep over the losses: All the Battle of Alberta games took place during various Calgary slumps and the fanbase was happy to point this out to the smug and arrogant Oilers’ fans who finally had something to cheer about after eleven seasons.
One team they have not had any success against happen to be the Ducks. With one regular season win in Anaheim in 13 1/2 years, any time these two teams are scheduled to play each other, fans watch almost resigned to the eventual outcome. There is always the support of “we’ll beat the curse tonight!”, but while the hope has always been there, it has always seemed half-hearted. This upcoming season though, feels a bit different.
Herein lies the key to not just a successful season but success in the playoffs as well. The Calgary Flames have to build around a game plan to beat the Ducks. Only when they figure out a way to stand up to the Pacific Division bullies will they be considered true post-season threats.
This is not the first time the team has had to figure out a way to beat a nemesis opponent. It happened in the 1980’s. “Badger” Bob Johnson and “Trader” Cliff Fletcher built a team that could finally knock off the Edmonton Oilers. Once that happened, the league took notice of the small market team from Southern Alberta. In 1984, the team took Edmonton to seven games. In 1986, the Flames knocked the Oilers off in seven games, winning a tightly contested series which ultimately propelled the team into its first Stanley Cup appearance against the Montreal Canadiens.
The point is, this is not new territory or a new idea. It has happened before. It CAN happen again. It can all start as early as this season, as all eyes focus onto the Honda Center in Anaheim on October 9 in anticipation of finally putting an end to The Curse.